Sunday, 27 September 2009

Partying with men of Words

As part of preparation for its 11th lagos Book and Art Festival, LABAF, 2009 9nov 12-15), leading art and culture advocate group, the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA), launched its two-month Book Season last Sunday with a near 6-hour Book Party, which served as a platform to acquaint Nigerians with the nine shortlists poets in the 2009 Nigeria Prize for Literature. Endowed by the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas, NLNG, the Prize is expected to produce one of the nine as the Nigeria Poet Laureate for the the 2009/2010 season. The winned will earn $50,000 prize money plus other incentives that would be unveiled at a grand award ceremony in Abuja next month. Those present at the Goethe Institut, Lagos, venue of the event, had more than enough to chew from eight of the nine poets that attended. The turn out was massive. Perhaps, no literary event in recent times, in Lagos, has commanded so much enthusiastic audence who sat for almost half of the day listening to the poets give insight into ther creative efforts. For those in the rather obscure culture sector, it signaled a rekindling of hope that all was not yet lost. The event was billed for between 2 and 6pm, but it ran late into about nearly 8pm. The Secretary General of CORA, Toyin Akinosho was the first to read an excerpt from The Yacouba Building, a novel by an Egyptian, Alaa Al Aswany. But it was star performing artist, teacher and self-styled ‘Otunba’ Tunji Sotimiri, that set a sombre yet exhilarating tone to the event when he re-enacted the quintessential activist harangue of the establishment by the late civil rights campaigner and social critic Chief Gani Fawhehinmi. Members of the 2008 Star Quest- competition winning band, Diamond and the Spectrum were on the bandstand. Thereafter, three reviewers gave the audience firsthand insight into the contents of some of the works by the nine writers. In responding to questions, Nengi Josef Ilagha, who had been a speech writer in government in his Bayelsa State, said though he was on the periphery in government, the experience gave him insight into how policies are articulated within government circles. For Dr. Ekwuazi, one time director general of Nigeria Film Corporation, there is a “big similarity between film and poetry because film is about imagery just like poetry”, which makes them seamless movements for him as he transits from one to the other. He also maintains that his new work is largely experimental and a departure from the normal. Also as a lawyer, Ahmed Maiwada does not see his foray into Literature a strange one as most people will assume. So, he says, “if you don’t know Literature you cannot practise Law”. For him “it’s just a natural marriage between Law and poetry”. Ogbowei sees writing as a natural inclination, an urge that needs to be fulfilled, pointing out that a writer does not set out with a view to win prizes but merely to express a creative consciousness. Barrett says he has never been one to seek prizes in his 40-year long career as a writer and would not submit his works for awards except his publisher does. He states that it was his wife that submitted A Memory of Rivers when she saw the advertisement and did not tell him until much later almost in passing because she knew he would have discouraged her. Then his son Igoni Barrett, also a writer, later called to inform him about the nomination. The Nigeria Literature Prize may have done something really tangible for poetry in putting it to the domain of public discourse rather than mere academic exercise. This was Dr. Ademola Dasylva’s view as he responded to certain issues. He maintains that with the prize the “complaint about inaccessibility about poetry” was being effective erased just as it should be for poetry to properly play its role as an art form that people could relate to as a part of their daily lives. Odoh Diego Okenyodo says his poetry is self-discovery as it is a trip through which he is just realising who he is as a writer, as a person. So that his collection From a Poem to its Creator is one long question mark about creator and the created. For Musa Idris Okpanachi (author of The Eaters of the Living), winner, ANA/Cadbury prize for poetry 2009, “things in the world are destinies and destinies are accidents”, and so he publishes out of frustration. Opanachi sees writing as something that excites in him as “interest, hobby and to photograph my society”. All the poets read or performed from their works for maximum effect. Ogbowei read ‘Walking these starving streets’, while Ilagha performed a piece from his collection. Barrett also read ‘Old River’ just as Okpanachi read ‘Crush me’ and ‘I want to marry’. Dasylva read ‘Anthem for doomed youth’ and ‘Globalisation’ from his collection. — CHUKS NWANNE

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